Today is the 70th birthday of Troma Entertainment co-founder Lloyd Kaufman. For those unfamiliar with Troma (which is nigh impossible if you’re visiting this site), Troma is the world’s oldest truly independent movie studio. For over 40 years, Troma has made, acquired, and distributed more than 1,000 independent films. Troma has legions of undying fans, dubbed Tromatics, who will eagerly devour anything and everything with a Troma logo on it, and the studio’s best and most well known films are those directed by Kaufman himself.
Troma fans are disparate, worldwide, and many; but we’re all united by our undying love and support of Lloyd. I too am a Tromatic, but my fervor runs deeper than just liking the films. I truly believe that Troma is in my blood, and all that I am, I am because of the Toxic Avenger. Strong statement, I know, but bear with me and I’ll explain.
My undying passion for Troma Studios began not with a film but rather a film box. I was 13 years old and perusing the shelves at local mom-and-pop shop Videoflicks. As per usual, I would walk up and down the rows of the new release wall, looking for something interesting to capture my imagination. Suddenly, as if peering into the eyes of Medusa, I glimpsed a certain title and was instantly transfixed. It was The Toxic Avenger Part II. The painted cover featured this strange muscle-bound creature with a malformed face wearing a tutu. One hand held a mop/American flag and the other a buxom blonde in a bikini brandishing a machine gun. I picked up the box to let the image soak in for a minute or two, then flipped it over and was even more astounded by the images on the back. This was truly a movie unlike anything I had ever seen before, nor would I for a few more years at least as there was no way in hell a barely pubescent whipper-snapper such as myself would be allowed by either my parents or the store to rent such a film (and believe me, I tried – repeatedly!)
This was back in 1989, and I could not get Toxie (as the character is affectionately known) out of my head. I would keep staring at that box plus the the two other Toxic Avenger movies each and every time I went to the store, wishing I could rent them and truly see what madness was contained therein. Thankfully, in 1991, Marvel comics published a short-lived Toxic Avenger comic series. I still hadn’t seen the movies, but I was getting my first fix of Toxie through four colors. Then, in 1994, I finally managed to rent a copy of the first Toxic Avenger film. It was here that my world divided into two distinct parts – B.T and A.T. (Before Troma and After Troma.)
To say the film blew my mind would be a severe understatement. Rather, my mind was blasted into an infinite number of fragments. And when I picked up and rearranged the pieces, just like the titular hero from New Jersey, I was transformed. This film was insanely wonderful, unlike anything I had ever seen up to that point. And I loved every fucking second of it! The over-the-top violence, the comedy, the melon-heavy breasts! I had just had my first taste of a drug that would hook me for life. The Toxic Avenger was my gateway into the weird and wonderful world of Troma. More than twenty years later and I’m still hooked.
When I pressed “play,” before the film began, there was this funny little man in a bow-tie who exuberantly introduced the film. Turned out this enthusiastic nut was Lloyd Kaufman, co-founder along with Michael Herz of Troma Entertainment. And if Toxie was Troma’s Mickey Mouse, Lloyd was the studio’s Walt Disney. Gleefully introducing each film in the Troma canon in his own unique, vaudevillian P.T. Barnum meets Rodney Dangerfield meets Lenny Bruce way, Lloyd was the profane but lovable uncle whom you couldn’t wait to see at family gatherings. Shit…Lloyd became family to me. Uncle Lloyd.
In 1998, Lloyd, along with co-writer James Gunn (future writer and director of Slither and Guardians of the Galaxy), wrote and released the book All I Need to Know about Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger. I devoured that shit with a spoon. Not only was the book extremely informative and funny, but there was also a handy section in the back listing every Troma-produced and distributed film thus far. The video store I worked for at the time had a surprising amount of Troma movies. In quick succession I watched films as disparate as Troma’s War, Redneck Zombies, Class of Nuke ‘Em High Parts II and III, Bloodsucking Freaks, When Nature Calls, Stuck On You!, Hollywood Zap!, Killer Condom, and Combat Shock. Speaking of Combat Shock, if you haven’t seen it, drop everything this instant and do so! It’s the bastard child of Eraserhead and Taxi Driver and it will fucking wreck you!
I was also heading downtown on a weekly basis to purchase more Troma. Rabid Grannies, Toxic Avenger Part II (finally) and III, the first Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D., Cannibal! The Musical, and Troma’s most accomplished masterpiece up to that point, the James Gunn-written Tromeo and Juliet (featuring the late and very much lamented Lemmy from Motörhead as The Narrator, the first of several appearances he made in Troma films).
The first time I met Lloyd was when he was appearing at our local HMV superstore for an indie film symposium and book signing. I remember being on the bus when I saw the ad for his appearance in a local alternative weekly and audibly squealing with glee. Finally, I was gonna meet Uncle Lloyd!!! Not knowing what sort of crowd to expect, I made sure to get there extra early (like three hours early). I was outside the store having a smoke when I peered in the window and saw Lloyd himself walking about. Shit…I couldn’t believe it! There he was, and there was no one else around.
I tentatively approached him and offered my hand. Now, we all know what they say about meeting our heroes, but in this case Uncle Lloyd did not disappoint. He was warm, friendly, gracious, and hilarious. We chatted for a good ten minutes or so, he signed my book, and we snapped a couple of photos together. I was riding on a fucking cloud. The symposium was great, but those ten or so minutes chatting with Lloyd Kaufman was an experience I will never, ever forget.
Soon after, what I call the “Troma Renaissance” began. In-house production Terror Firmer was a kick-ass meta masterpiece. Lloyd quickly followed up his first directed film in three years with the unbelievable Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV – the “real” sequel to The Toxic Avenger (admittedly, Toxies II and III were not as accomplished as the first).
I’ve subsequently met Lloyd a number of times at screenings, conventions, and events and have even had the honor of interviewing him. He always remembers me and my name, which is extremely impressive considering he meets tons of fans. I’ve attended his Make Your Own Damn Movie Masterclass and have read every book he’s written. I’ve seen The Toxic Avenger musical three times and recently purchased my seventh copy of the original Toxie flick, this time on Blu-ray.
I’m certainly not alone in my “Trovotion.” There are legions of Tromatics just like myself who cover themselves in Troma tattoos, volunteer to be Toxies, Kabukimen, and Trometes at Lloyd’s numerous appearances, and will buy anything Troma sight unseen. What is it about Troma that inspires such devotion?
I think it’s the fact that Troma’s in-house productions are more than just mindless exploitation films. Yes, they feature the hallmarks we expect from exploitation flicks, but they are really so much more than that. The best Troma flicks are incredibly incise pieces of social satire. Take Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. The 2006 film gleefully and savagely mocks every sacred cow, breaks every code of sexual decency, and spits in the face of every social taboo. But like all the best social satirists, from Mad Magazine to Kurt Vonnegut, Lloyd doesn’t tell the audience what to think. He bombards their sensibilities with wit, concepts, and ideas (and lest we forget, melon-heavy breasts) while trusting the audience to make up their own damn minds.
Happy birthday, Lloyd! I and the legions of Tromatics whom you inspire every day to think, to create, to buck the status quo, to question and protest against the tactics of soul sucking-devil worshiping-mega corporate conglomerates salute you!
May Troma reign for 40 more years.